Migrants' lawyer blasts gov't for lack of evidence
Published Thursday, August 26, 2010 5:15PM PDT
Migrants look over the side of the MV Sun Sea after it was escorted into CFB Esquimalt in Colwood, B.C., Friday, Aug. 13, 2010. (Jonathan Hayward / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
The migrants who gathered inside one of several nondescript trailers within the confines of a Vancouver-area prison couldn't help but laugh as Tamil after Tamil alerted officials that the names on their detention review forms were spelled incorrectly.
Their amusement at authorities' struggle with their notoriously long names comes nearly two weeks after the MV Sun Sea docked in British Columbia.
The men were facing their second detention hearing Thursday, the same day that a lawyer blasted the government's pace in confirming and releasing information.
Daniel McLeod, who represents some of the 492 migrants who arrived Aug. 13, said representatives for the Canada Border Services Agency have not disclosed any evidence at the hearings that would justify continued detention.
He also accused the agency of failing to provide details on how many of the documents have been verified, and said CBSA is instead relying on "vague generalities" about working as fast as it can.
"This is not rocket science," McLeod said Thursday morning during a hearing for 10 of the men at the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre in Maple Ridge, B.C., east of Vancouver.
"I thought we might have some enlightenment as to what the (public safety) minister might be doing ... with respect to verifying their identities."
He said many of the migrants brought identification cards issued by the Sri Lankan government that are outfitted with security features.
"It's not a difficult document to match," he said.
A CBSA representative told the Immigration and Refugee Board at Thursday's hearing that while the process is taking longer than usual, there are extenuating circumstances.
Kristen Smyth noted there were 492 people on board the MV Sun Sea and a lack of interpreters has hampered things.
She argued for the men to be detained until 30-day review hearings can be conducted next month.
The refugee board called that request "reasonable" and ordered the men to stay in custody.
None of the migrants, who docked at CFB Esquimalt after their vessel was intercepted by the Canadian navy, have yet been released from detention.
The men at Thursday morning's hearing arrived wearing red shirts and pants, along with flip-flops.
Some earlier had blue blankets as the warm temperatures that have blanketed Metro Vancouver in recent weeks gave way to grey skies and rain.
When Smyth tried to exit the cramped trailer following the hearing, the men quickly rose to their feet, picked up their chairs and cleared a path for her.
McLeod said he had warned his clients it was unlikely they'd be released from custody this week.
He expressed hope that border agency officials will arrive with more substantial information at the next set of hearings. In most circumstances, he added, the refugee claimants wouldn't have been detained at all.
He said the migrants are puzzled by the process and why they keep being shuttled from hearing to hearing.
At another hearing for another group of 10 men later in the day, the agency again asked for the migrants to be detained.
The refugee board agreed the men should be held until their identities are verified. The CBSA representative did not provide details on when that might occur.
Antya Schrack, duty counsel for the group, said CBSA's lack of confirmed information on the men is understandable because of how many people were on board the vessel.
She said the men are also likely to be at the back of the line, since officials are prioritizing cases involving women and children.
Schrack had to rewrite several names after the hearing when the migrants pointed out they were spelled wrong. The CBSA representative and refugee board adjudicator also made revisions.
Schrack said there have been incorrect names at every hearing she's attended.